In Zakes Mda’s book the Heart of Redness there’s a story of an educated Xhosa family who sing choral arrangements in four-part harmony – this story has been written, and it’s about to be turned into an opera.
Renowned composer and librettist Neo Muyanga found inspiration in this book and adapted it into an opera. Muyanga loosely draws from Zakes Mda’s book and an episode of Nelson Mandela’s release.
“The book suggests lots of musical styles – traditional musical styling is suggested in this book and a particular kind of bushman music is elicited,” said Muyanga who added that the integration of Xhosa and Bushman families create a particular sound. Popular choral piece Baradi ba Jerusalema (Daughters of Jerusalem) will be one of the workshopped pieces where “universes of old music and new music – black music, white music and complex music- will seek to define itself in a particular political style.”
Muyanga was recently awarded as the composer in residence at the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research (WISER) and as part of this award he will engage in research to support the development and performance of the operas.“Opera is assumed to be an elitist preoccupation and in many instances it has become that,” said Muyanga before dismissing the stereotype, describing it as having “sleazy … working class habits.”
Muyanga’s research will see him undertake the popularity of opera in different black communities in both South Africa and the global south and the contributions it has made to black communities.“What I’m trying to understand is a black identity through the lens of opera singing and choral music making.” During his fellowship Muyanga will also engage in research to support the development and performance of the operas.
Although Muyanga said he doesn’t know what kind of impact he wants his research to have, he is “keen to have multi-layered conversations … in which institutions like Wits to help platform”.
- Wits Vuvuzela: COOL KID: Jazzy Jacobs, September 19, 2014